Mexico / Travel

Guanajuato: A Colonial Jewel On A Silver Platter

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The city clings to the steep sides of a V-shaped canyon in the Central Highlands of Mexico. Other than a narrow strip in the bottom of the canyon, the only way to go is up. The hillsides are so steep, that much of the town can only be reached on foot. It isn’t the most convenient of locations, but that can be explained in one word: silver. The city is Guanajuato, and even though the silver barons are gone, its narrow streets, alleys, and small, picturesque plazas still make it a delightful destination.

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Miners set up camp here around 1540, and the 1558 discovery of a large silver vein officially put Guanajuato (pronounced wah-nah-WHAH-toh) on the map. Although there was some gold, the mines produced astronomical amounts of silver. Estimates vary, but some experts say that from the 16-18th Centuries, Guanajuato’s mines produced a third of all the silver in the world. This silver filled the Spanish king’s coffers, and made the mine-owning families fabulously wealthy. Thanks to the silver barons’ wealth and largesse, colonial mansions and elaborate churches still dominate the center.

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But not all of Guanajuato’s charms are stately and grandiose. Thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage status, most buildings in the historic center have been maintained as they were built.

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The city has a wonderful, relaxed small-town feel, that we didn’t feel in either San Miguel de Allende or Morelia. A large part of the center has been closed to traffic, and small, inviting plazas are around every corner.

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City residents and tourists venture out in the cool nights to the Jardin de la Unión to visit one of the upscale restaurants, hang out with their friends, or just relax on a bench.

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Guanajuato is also known for its callejónes (alleys). The only way to access many of the colorful houses on the hillsides is by trudging up steep alleys and stairways.

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One of these, the Callejón de Beso (Alley of the Kiss) has a legend that made it famous, because on this alley, the houses are only inches apart. The legend says that a couple of young lovers lived opposite each other, but the relationship was not to be, because she was nobility, and he was a common laborer. Inevitably the relationship was discovered, and the couple met a tragic end.

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Guanajuato, like the other towns we’ve visited, is a Spanish Colonial jewel in the scenic Sierra Madre Mountains. But it has a calm, casual feel that gently pulls us out for rambles down small, intimate streets, and shaded benches that beckon for a siesta. We’re going to enjoy this place.

Hasta Luego,
James & Terri

59 thoughts on “Guanajuato: A Colonial Jewel On A Silver Platter

    • I think that you’d enjoy Mexico Andrew. Other than the beaches, it’s a part of the world that most Europeans probably don’t think much about. But it has lots to offer, and it’s a very easy place to visit. ~James

      • For Brits Mexico generally means the coast which doesn’t interest us. As in Spain we would prefer to go inland so with your posts as inspiration I will do some research – thanks!

    • Sue, after this trip, I think that I’ll probably go into color withdrawal. Guanajuato isn’t quite as colorful as San Miguel, but it’s right up there. The colorful buildings and its mountain location, make it a very photogenic place. ~James

  1. With all the colors, it looks like quite a happy place. I’m glad you are enjoying your trip! I wouldn’t want to have to haul my groceries to the top of those hills though.

    • The hills are something else Laura, but most people here (except maybe us) seem to take them in stride (bad pun, I know). After spending this much time at altitude, when we get back to SSI, we’ll just float right off the pavement. ~James

  2. Your stories and photos remind me how much more there is to Mexico than what we experienced in Morelos State and around Mexico City. I hope people who see your stories and know little about Mexico will see how warm and welcoming the people are, a story that does not get told in the media. My enduring impression of Mexico is how much the people want to be appreciated. They are aware that they are not always well thought of north of the border and they go out of their way to make up for that. Unlike Spain, where people ignore you on the sidewalks, in Mexico people – complete strangers – almost always acknowledged others with a ‘Buenos Dias’ greeting. I kind of miss that. – Mike

    • Mike, all the people we’ve encountered here have been friendly and helpful. And it’s funny, but before this trip, we hadn’t really spent much time in Mexico. I guess that having it right on our doorstep, our thought was “We can always visit Mexico.” We’ve had a great trip so far, and we’ll definitely consider it for future trips. It’s nice having a relatively short plane trip – and NOOOO jet lag. Yay! ~James

  3. You show me this place just as we’re about to leave Mexico?!! That’s just cruel. Oh well, we’ll put it on the list for next year.

    • Tom, I’m sure that you guys would enjoy this part of the country. The towns are pleasant and interesting, the excellent (and cheap) bus service makes it easy to get around, and the weather is mild. You should definitely put it on the list. ~James

  4. GTO was simply mesmerizing to me, like Toledo with a difference though. And best part of any city as they say are its people. True. GTO locals are so full of warmth and life. Hope to come to GTO some day around Oct for Cervantinos festival. Very vivid description with images. Rocking…

    • Everyone we’ve encountered on this trip have been friendly and helpful. It helps to speak a bit of Spanish as well. The festival looks like fun, and the people here certainly seem to enjoy their Cervantes. ~James

      • Though we do not know Spanish n survived only on eng-spanish app, it was fun to interact with locals. They were so patient n we always parted with a cheerful laugh. How much ever threat perceptions come about Mexico, its people are the charm of this lively country

  5. This is too colourful to be real. Looks more like a wonderful children’s toy village. I love it. How can anyone be found without a smile pasted on in this environment?

    About the legend, to what tragic end did the lovers find themselves? 😦

  6. One of my favorite cities in Mexico- so glad it is prospering! If you have time (and the inclination) and want to do something different, check out El Museo De Las Momias (mummies disinterred from a local cemetery) —it resonates wonderfully with the Mexico’s celebration of Day Of The Dead and the older Aztec fascination of death.

    • We haven’t made it to the Momias, but it’s on the list. Guanajuato really is a delightful town, and the feel is so relaxed. The area around the Jardin, is so active, and is a wonderful place to people watch. ~James

  7. I’m from Guanajuato and I haven’t been there in years! I love that you are traveling in Mexico. Makes me really happy to see other people enjoying a place that is also very dear to my heart.

    • Thanks Angie. Guanajuato must have been a wonderful place to grow up. It’s small enough to be friendly and safe, and large enough to be interesting. If you’ve followed out posts, we’ve been to San Miguel de Allende, Morelia, and GTO, and it’s our favorite of the three. ~James

    • Suzanne, I don’t know if you and Terrell have spent much time in Mexico, but the Highlands should go on your list. It’s easy to get to, easy to get around, and very interesting. Also, the weather in the mountains is perfect. Check it out. ~James

  8. Ah, one of our very favorite cities in Mexico. Inquiring minds want to know, did you two stop for a kiss at the Callejón de Beso? Or perhaps you don’t kiss and tell. 😉

  9. Beautiful colors, good food, friendly people and mummies. What’s not to like? Great blog as always. Another city to add to my list. Between you two and Alison and Don, I may have to spend a whole year in Mexico. Now, if I can just persuade Peggy… 🙂 –Curt

    • That small cafe has been there since the late 1800s Bronwyn, and it’s still in business. It’s the ultimate perch for people watching. As to all the color, I suspect that instead of getting tired of the color, you’d probably just not notice it quite so much. And what a great place to indulge all those wacky color experiments that you always wanted to do. ~James

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